Studies prove there are real physical and emotional benefits to spending time outdoors. Check out our favorite outdoor activities for families.
When the weather is warm, you’d think making time for outdoor activities would be a given. But recent statistics on screen use are scary! Children under eight spend nearly 4X as much time in front of screens as they did in 2013.
Experts agree that putting down those devices and getting your kids outside is essential to their well-being.
“We know daily physical activity is essential for children’s growth and development,” says Dr. Kristen Copeland, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
Countless studies prove the physical and emotional benefits to spending time outdoors. Here, some of the most compelling:
1. Kids who do outdoor activities have lower BMI.
A 2015 study of nearly 3,000 preschool-aged kids found that the more children played outdoors, the more their BMI decreased. Just 60 minutes per daysignificantly improved BMI. Sounds doable, right? Another study found that only 5.7% of children are getting the recommended 60 minutes of outdoor activity.
2. Kids who do outdoor activities have better eyesight.
There’s some evidence that just 45 minutes of outdoor activity per day decreases the instances of nearsightedness in children. In the study, kids who spent more time outside were 23% less likely to develop nearsightedness. Though the research didn’t specifically address why time spent outdoors improves eyesight, lead author lead author Dr. Mingguang He said there is speculation that brighter outside light positively affects eye growth.
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3. Kids who do outdoor activities are smarter.
Many studies, including this one from the University of Michigan, show that just being outside improves memory and attention. When children engage in physical activity outdoors, the benefits are even greater. This Swedish study suggests cardiovascular activities stimulate the brain, improving intelligence scores over time. Another study suggests even simply being surrounded by green space can improve memory and attentiveness in school-age children.
4. Kids who do outdoor activities have better immune systems.
There is growing evidence that dirt isn’t just good for kids, it’s necessary for healthy development. One study found that kids who were exposed to a wide range of microbes (like those who grew up on farms) were less likely to develop asthma and allergies.
“Kids who live in just a bit dirtier environments are actually more protected against asthma and allergies.” — Anne Sperling, an immunologist at the University of Chicago
5. Kids who do outdoor activities sleep better.
Still waiting for your child to sleep through the night? Studies say kids who engage in outdoor activities are less likely to wake up at night. The reason for this is two-fold. Exposure to sunlight helps regulate sleep patterns and physical activity helps children fall asleep faster and get a better night’s sleep. Conversely, the same study found that each additional hour of screen time was associated with a three‐minute shorter sleep.
6. Kids who do outdoor activities are less stressed.
Experts say increasing outdoor time could protect kids from ADHD, antidepressant use, and high levels of anxiety.
Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces. Outdoor play teaches kids to collaborate and solve problems. They are more confident, creative and even nicer. — Sydney Morning Herald
What’s more? Scientists say exposure to certain kinds of bacteria in soil may also increase learning capabilities.
7. Kids who do outdoor activities get more vitamin D.
Most kids—7 out of 10!—are vitamin D deficient, according to a study of 6,000 children. Yikes! And since it’s very hard to get enough vitamin D from a healthy diet alone, getting outside is vital to kids’ bone and heart health. According to one study, just 15-20 minutes outside each day can help improve kids’ vitamin D stores.
“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” — Kay Redfield Jamison, clinical psychologist
Fun Outdoor Activities for Families
Are you 100% convinced your kids need to spend more time outdoors? Here are some fun ideas to add to your summer bucket list:
Visit a farm or a zoo
Early exposure to livestock and farms can help prevent allergies, asthma and hay fever. And simply being around animals can improve happiness.
Cultivate a vegetable garden
Learning about gardening with hands-on experience may increase vegetable consumption and make kids more willing to try (and like!) new vegetables.
Go for a walk
We already know that simply being surrounded by greenery can improve memory and attentiveness, but there’s additional research that suggests children with ADHD are better able to concentrate after taking a walk in the park.
Visit a National Park
Experts say access to public land, like National Parks, promotes physical activity, improves mental health, and may even reduce health care costs.
Try forest bathing
Forest bathing has many benefits, including decreased risk of heart attack, decreased risk of obesity, improved sleep and mood, decreased inflammation, clearer skin, relief for sore muscles, and more. Read more about why I love forest bathing (and how to do it) here.
Set up a scavenger hunt
This kind of activity is fun for kids, but it has some hidden benefits parents love. Scavenger hunts teach problem-solving skills, exercise both the mind and muscles, and encourage teamwork.
Pack a picnic and read a book together
Since being outdoors can improve concentration and make it easier to learn, a nice day is the perfect time to tackle that summer reading list.
Host a lemonade stand
Creating some sort of front yard sale, whether helping with a family garage sale or hosting their own lemonade stand, helps kids learn valuable entrepreneurial skills. Bonus points for saving a portion of the money and donating the rest to charity, which teaches kids to be smart with their money and philanthropic.
Getting Outside This Summer
When the kids are home all summer long, it’s up to parents to keep kids busy. While it’s tempting to set them up in front of the TV to buy yourself some extra time between activities, resist the urge. There are so many ways to raise a low-media child without going insane. And, as you can see from the above, the benefits to getting outside are real and vast. But don’t beat yourself up if every hour of the day isn’t structured with a planned activity. Kids need unstructured play, too. When you need a break (yes, we all need a break sometimes!), let your kids find ways to safely entertain themselves—they’ll be better for it!
How About You?
What special outdoor activities do you have planned this summer? Share your ideas below!